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Overcoming setbacks: Rico Hoey's roadmap to resilience

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Overcoming setbacks: Rico Hoey's roadmap to resilience

Rico Hoey's path from lost status and tee marking to PGA TOUR redemption through perseverence and triumph.

    Written by Kevin Prise @PGATOURKevin

    Editor's note: Rico Hoey is making his second start on the PGA TOUR in 2024 as a rookie at The American Express. Hoey earned his TOUR card in 2023 by finishing fourth on the Korn Ferry Tour Points List.

    Rico Hoey was at a crossroads.

    It was fall 2021 and the sweet-swinging young pro with several amateur accolades had lost Korn Ferry Tour status for the first time in four years. With an uncertain roadmap, he returned to his childhood home course, Goose Creek Golf Club in Mira Loma, California, swallowed his pride and asked for a job.

    Hoey figured it would be a cakewalk. Working the phones, maybe, or driving the beverage cart.


    Ross Fisher, a Hoey confidant and Goose Creek’s general manager, decided to give Hoey the most tedious assignment possible, setting tee markers. The intention? Rekindling his talented mentee’s itch to play professionally.

    “[Fisher] said, ‘I’m going to give you the hardest job, and you’re going to hate it; you’re not going to last a month,’” recalled Hoey, who is officially #TOURbound following six top-10s – including a win – in 16 Korn Ferry Tour starts this season. . “I was like, ‘Oh boy, what did I get myself into?’

    “The very next week, he made me set up tee markers at 4:30 in the morning. It was very humbling. … I had never really had a job, then all of a sudden, I started working with the maintenance crew, working that early, then junior clinics, … working from 4:30 (a.m.) until 7 at night. It was a pretty wild time.”

    Hoey proved his boss wrong. He did stay a month. Afterward, though, the competitive itch returned.

    With a renewed pursuit of incremental improvement – no matter the circuit or stakes – he won a handful of mini-tour events in 2022. Then survived Q-School that fall to earn back Korn Ferry Tour membership for 2023. In April, he posted back-to-back T3 finishes at the Astara Chile Classic and Veritex Bank Championship. Then he rebounded from two missed cuts with a T2 at the AdventHealth Championship in May. He followed that up with an emotional win later that month at the Visit Knoxville Open that resonated across the golf landscape.

    Rico Hoey’s emotional talk with parents after winning Visit Knoxville Open

    The resurgence cemented the 27-year-old Hoey’s spot in the top 30 on the 2023 Korn Ferry Tour Points List – and a PGA TOUR card for next season. After six years as a pro, he’s set to fulfill the dream that was sewn as a California kid of Filipino descent, always spurred ahead by his parents and two older sisters.

    Hoey, who played college golf at the University of Southern California, always had the talent. His resume speaks for itself: 2012 Junior World champion, 2014 Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, 2016 and 2017 Second Team All-America honors, winner on PGA TOUR Canada within four months of turning pro, retaining his Korn Ferry Tour card for 2018.

    He was on the right track, but then he wasn’t. His position on the Korn Ferry Tour standings decreased for three consecutive seasons, and he lost his card after 2021. What’s more, a shoulder injury coincided with Q-School that fall.

    Perhaps Hoey just needed to get out of his way and let that talent take over.

    But there was a moment from his maintenance gig that resonated, too. While driving toward a tee box one morning pre-dawn, he realized he couldn’t locate the proper ground. This, on a course he knew like the back of his hand. His boss told him to order a headlight – and install it, as well.

    It was a unique wake-up call for one of the game’s premier flushers, nicknamed “World’s Greatest Driver” on a Southern Cal team that included DP World Tour standout Sean Crocker and reigning Korn Ferry Tour Player of the Year Justin Suh, who described his early encounters with Hoey as eye-opening.

    Hoey just needed to find that extra gear when it came to honing his talent. It's what the professional game demands.

    “I didn’t understand the professional side of having to practice and train, coming out of college,” Hoey admits. “It was all so new to me. All I wanted to do was play golf. I always had talent, but I didn’t have the work ethic.”

    He just needed to unlock his potential.

    “His ball-striking … pretty off-the-charts,” Suh recently told PGA about his former teammate. “Coming in as a freshman, it was kind of an eye-opener on how much better I needed to get, in comparison to how good he was hitting it. There are some shots that he’s got that I don’t see a lot of people have.

    Rico Hoey sinks 15-foot birdie on 72nd hole to win Visit Knoxville Open

    “There was no question that he ever had the game … I feel like he’s always had the game, but maybe wasn’t as comfortable making that transition into professional golf. As far as his game and his skill set, I never questioned that he would be out here.”

    Chris Zambri, the head men's golf coach at Southern Cal during Hoey's era, has seen many a flusher in the uber-competitive Pac-12 Conference. But he says Hoey’s natural instincts reach another level.

    Zambri recalled a time during the recruitment process where he asked Hoey his distance with a wedge. Hoey responded with an expansive range, an estimated 130 to 150 yards. (He has since dialed these numbers in.)

    Early in his college days, Hoey might remove his glove to take 4 or 5 yards off a shot. On the range, he might make three or four big cuts – his preferred shot shape – before switching to a draw to even it out. It’s such a pure, natural approach that Hoey’s inability to make an immediate impact on the Korn Ferry Tour was “somewhat bewildering at times,” said Zambri. Meaning, the ability to someday become #TOURBound was always there.

    “His innate ability to get the ball on-line is better than anyone I’ve ever seen,” Zambri said. “We’ve measured it. He just gets the ball on-line really well, controls the yardage well and does the work.”

    This skill, which bolsters Hoey’s competitive advantage, is perhaps best demonstrated with one of his trademark shots: driver off the deck.

    When asked about Hoey’s signature shot, Suh takes only a few seconds before landing on it: “He’s got a 15th club, which is driver off the deck, and he mashes it.”

    Zambri recalled the 12th hole at The Concession Golf Club during the 2015 NCAA men’s golf championship, where Hoey employed the shot off the tee on the short par 4. A Golf Channel analyst wasn’t sure of the decision, and Zambri admitted that if it were most any other player, he may have had reservations.

    But with Hoey? Coach knew it was the correct play.

    “He has a crazy ability to hit his driver off the ground,” Zambri said. “He can move the ball both ways off the ground with a driver, let alone hit it solidly.

    “Usually I would be like, ‘What the heck are you doing?’ But he felt it was a good way to take some yardage off, which is pretty smart if you’re capable of getting it up there. Not many of us are, but he has the speed and talent to get it up there. … Just a freakish talent.”

    It’s an instinct that was cultivated from a young age, with lessons from Ron Stockton and his father, Dave Stockton Sr., who’s a two-time major champion. The instruction included imagining shots and being creative, both in line with the family’s ethos. (“If there’s one thing a good putter hates, it’s an absolutely straight putt,” Dave Sr. once told Golf Digest.)

    “No such thing as a straight shot,” Hoey remembers being told. “For me, ‘You’re right, I can’t hit a straight shot.’ (The Stocktons) taught me to cut it and draw it. Go curve the ball, have a good time.”

    The ethos fits Hoey’s personality like a glove, as he’s never afraid to express himself or embrace life’s nuances. Zambri recalls Hoey’s maiden college victory at the 2013 Gifford Collegiate, where the freshman drained the winning putt and was “wailing” on the green. The impression was as such that a rival coach used Hoey as an example of aspirational passion for the game. When Hoey secured his first Korn Ferry Tour title in Knoxville, it was déjà vu.

    The quirk might be on-course, like driver off the deck. But those quirks surface outside the ropes as well: After clinching guaranteed starts at Final Stage last fall, he signed his card and returned to the interview area wearing flip-flops.

    “A super chill guy off the course,” Zambri said. “A good friend; friendly or great friends with everybody on the team. Rico doesn’t have an enemy in the world.”

    When Hoey was in elementary school – he estimates second or third grade – he mentioned to his mom that he might like to get his ears pierced. The way he remembers it, it was a loose suggestion.

    Mom didn’t miss a beat.

    “She’s like, ‘Let’s do it,’” Hoey remembered. “I’m like, ‘Oh boy, what did I get myself into?’”

    Thoughts akin to when he took that maintenance job in fall 2021. Both times, he figured it out.

    Kevin Prise is an associate editor for the PGA TOUR. He is on a lifelong quest to break 80 on a course that exceeds 6,000 yards and to see the Buffalo Bills win a Super Bowl. Follow Kevin Prise on Twitter.

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